The Night Porter: Nazi porn or daring arthouse eroticism?

The Night Porter: Nazi porn or daring arthouse eroticism?November 26, 2020

There were bids to ban this film about a sexual liaison between an SS officer and a teenage concentration camp prisoner. As it returns four decades on, does director Liliana Cavani still feel their relationship was ‘beautiful’?

Movie romances traditionally have what’s called a “meet cute”, that clinching moment when a couple-to-be first bump into one another. It would be hard, though, to think of a meet less cute than the one in The Night Porter, Liliana Cavani’s erotic drama from 1974. When Max (Dirk Bogarde) encounters Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), they are in a concentration camp: he is an SS commandant and she is his teenage prisoner, crop-haired, ghostly and gaunt. A twisted relationship develops. She gives him sex and he brings her gifts, such as the head of a fellow prisoner in a box. It’s the little things that mean so much.

Twelve years after the end of the war, they are reunited when she checks into the Vienna hotel where he is manning the front desk. Soon it’s like the good old days all over again: they play sadomasochistic sex games, and Max tries to prevent Lucia being killed by his Nazi chums.

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